(The Gist of Science Reporter) Anti-vaccination Sentiment Riding High on Lack of Scientific Awareness [APRIL-2019]

(The Gist of Science Reporter) Anti-vaccination Sentiment Riding High on Lack of Scientific Awareness [APRIL-2019]

Anti-vaccination Sentiment Riding High on Lack of Scientific Awareness

  • TWENTY years ago, in 1998, a physician Andrew Wakefield published a study in The Lancet claiming that the measles-mumpsrubella (MMR) vaccine caused autism in children. Ten years later, in February 2010, Wakefield retracted his paper in the wake of allegations that the study was conducted “dishonestly” and “irresponsibly” and the data were “bogus”. His medical licence was revoked.
  • The details were later revealed in a report titled “Secrets of the MMR scare: How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed” published in 2011 in the British Medical Journal. The report revealed the extent of fraud and falsification of data committed by Andrew Wakefield and how the link with autism was “manufactured” at a London medical school.
  • But all this came much later. Just within a year of Wakefield’s paper being published it had unleashed a cycle of damage that would spread throughout the world. The story was splashed in the UK newspapers, fearful parents refused to get their children vaccinated, and measles, which had been almost eradicated in the UK, once again made a comeback.
  • Measles is a highly infectious and potentially fatal disease caused by the virus Measles morbillivirus. Its symptoms include fever, runny nose, red eyes with rashes appearing all over the body.
  • Wakefield’s claims also gave strength to the anti-vaccination movement in various parts of the world, which continues to lumber on even though during the next ten years several studies found no evidence of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. In fact, Danish researchers have recently published one of the largest studies of autism and MMR in the Annals of Internal Medicine (5 March 2019).
  • The researchers followed 657,461 children born between 1999 and 2010 to show that there was no causal link between MMR vaccine and measles.
  • Despite Wakefield’s research having been debunked many times, anti-vaccination proponents continue to stoke fears of MMR vaccination causing autism.
  • Now, in the face of some of the worst outbreak of measles the world has seen in recent years, the World Health Organization (WHO) has listed vaccine hesitancy or the antivaccination sentiment among the list of its top ten priorities for 2019.
  • It shares place with deadly air pollution, Ebola and antibiotic resistance. Measles has seen a 30% increase in cases globally, the WHO says. “Vaccination currently prevents 2-3 million deaths a year, and a further 1.5 million could be avoided if global coverage of vaccinations improved,” says WHO.
  • In India too health authorities continue to combat the lack of awareness among the public and the barrage of misinformation on vaccines, making many parents “skeptical” of vaccines despite evidence to the contrary.
  • In a recent study published in the journal eLife (5 March 2019), researchers from the University of Toronto, Canada; King George’s Medical University, Lucknow; Ministry of Health & Family Welfare; PGIMER Chandigarh, and ICMR found a significant decrease in the number of measles related deaths among infants aged 1-59 months, and that an estimated 41,000 to 56,000 measles deaths had been averted between 2010 to 2013 in children under the age of five years after the star of the immunisation campaign.
  • Lack of awareness and misinformed fears among the general public can not be allowed to derail the benefits of the immunisation campaign that have accrued over the years. Sustained public awareness campaigns in some Indian states such as Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat have shown good results. These need to be replicated throughout the country and with more intensity and sensitivity.

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Courtesy: Science Reporter